Friday, May 30, 2008

My Thought Process: A Beginner's Guide

1. Oh hey, that's a good idea for a blog post.*

2. You know, I should really write that idea on my Ideas list, so I don't forget it. I'm always thinking of these things, but I don't write them down and they're long gone by the time I sit down to write.

3. Ok, so Firefox. Click "More," then "Documents." Alright, in my Google Documents. "All Items," and scroll down . . . "Ideas:", there we go.

4. What was that idea again?

5. Hmmmmm . . .

6. Crap.

7. What what was I doing just now? Did something inspire it?

8. Gotta think. Ok, turn off the Penny Arcade podcast. Put the Animal Crackers away. No distractions.

9. Ummm . . .

10. Crap.

11. Maybe it was something on one of the web pages I have open. Joystiq? No. Fark? No. Garfield minus Garfield? Can't be, even though that one's hilarious. Ring of Fates item list?

12. What? How would the Ring of Fates item list inspire a blog post? My new Wolf's Bow isn't exactly a latter day muse. Wow, now I'm just desperate.

13. Urrrgh! What could I possibly have been thinking about? It was like two minutes ago!

14. Wait a minute! Now I remember! That IS a good idea. Sweet, just enter that in the "Ideas:" list, save it. Good to go.

15. Get the animal crackers, turn my podcast back on.

16. Oh right, I got the idea from something they said in the podcast.

*But not as good as this one!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Ok, so Indy 4

Under no circumstances should you see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Sweet merciful crap it's bad. I mean ugh.

I take that back. If you just picked up the kids from soccer in your SUV, and you want to go to the movies anyway just so you can see one of the Fandango commercials that you always laugh at because those paper bag puppets are just "so cute," then by all means plop down your whatever-you-last-paid-for-a-move-plus-75-cents and go see it.

Make no mistake, it's not Harrison Ford who's showing his age in this movie, it's George Lucas. I honestly don't know if the man remembers how to tell stories anymore, or at least which ones are worth telling.

For the core of the problem, I point you to "Wikipedia:"The film's long gestation coincided with Harrison Ford growing older, and this meant the filmmakers had to give a new approach and setting. Instead of tributing Republic Pictures's 1930s serials, the film needed to be more like a 1950's B-Movie."

WHAT.

The 1930 serials had charm, George, charm that came through brilliantly when real actors and directors were applied to it. There's not a lot of charm in "The Crawling Eye" or it's contemporaries, and I know because I've seen plenty. Now please stand up an admit to the class that you just wanted an excuse to make another movie set in the 1950's, because you and Spielberg are part of that generation that remembers the era as a sort of Eden. Also, apparently your Eden is a time when women were largely subjugated and black people weren't allowed to vote.

Lucas' chronological obsession is why Indy 4 goes out of it's way to beat us over the head with 1950's clich├ęs. When Indy was in the diner and told his greaser sidekick to punch "Joe College" so they could escape the Communists, and a classic 1950's hit started playing at just that moment, I knew it was all over.

Three final thoughts on the matter:

1. The sad part is that "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" keeps alluding to Indy's career with the OSS during WWII, which sounds far cooler than the chapter of his life we got. "Indiana Jones and the Quest to Kill Hitler" is infinitely more promising than Harrison Ford running around like Bugs Bunny on a nuclear testing facility. Hey, maybe Lucas could farm that "OSS" stuff out to Genndy Tartakovsky like he did with "Star Wars:Clone Wars!"

2. Every time I try to think about Indy 4, I find myself drifting off to "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune." That game was really a lot of fun, and a better model of this kind of story.

3. They waited ten years to find this script. To find THIS SCRIPT! THIS ONE!*

*TEN YEARS!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ok, so superhero movies, Part 2

But the fact is that human beings think differently. And I don't mean that they have differences of opinion, I'm saying that they process the same information in different ways.

Imagine three factories standing alongside one another. The first one makes toys, the second makes shovels, the third one makes bombs. All three factories get a daily delivery of steel.

It's the same way with entertainment. People approach it wanting different things, they handle it in different ways, and what they take away from it is all their own.

Which is why reviewing a creative work with a score is such a fantastically stupid idea. It's like saying that steel can be given a numeric grade, like "7.2," and that number summarizes all the toys, shovels, and bombs in the world. You can't measure a movie because there's nothing to measure it against. You and the guy next to you had very separate experiences.

And maybe that's why a lot of the creative things that endure have a knack for hitting the audience on multiple levels. Take Shakespeare. He wrote with elegance, grace, and respect for his characters . . . characters who routinely murdered, went insane, hung out with witches, ran from bears, and settled it all with a good sword fight. He was a good writer. He didn't need to avoid the exciting hooks just to get his work respected. He wrote for the queen and he wrote for the peanut gallery, all in the same stoke.

Which brings me, naturally, to "The Incredibles." It's my favorite kind of movie: the one that's so much better than it had to be. Pixar's reputation and talent plus a superhero theme equals cash money money, dolla dolla bill ya'll. It doesn't have to be any good to make back every cent that goes into it.

But it is good. It succeeds as an action movie. It's entertaining to kids and gives them characters they can identify with. But it also has a lot to say about aging and feeling trapped, about strength and weakness and how they coexist, and about family.

It's really . . . remarkable.*

*Thought I was going to say "incredible," didn't you?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ok, so superhero movies, Part 1

This week, someone told me that "Iron Man" was, and I'm quoting here, "stupid."

As you might guess, I'm inclined to disagree, but then I did just see it for the second time, so maybe I'm partial at the moment.*

"Reviewing" creative works has always been a nebulous process. People approach their entertainment in an expanse of ways, and the great value of criticism comes in understanding just how deep and complex that expanse can be.

Take "Superman Returns" for instance:

I thought it was terrible. See, I feel that one thing you usually need in a story, and especially a story about good versus evil, is conflict. Maybe I'm crazy, but conflict seems like a pretty important element. "Superman Returns" doesn't really have conflict, because Lex Luthor doesn't have any sort of plan. Oh sure, he's got his little crystal that he's going to throw into the ocean, so he can create an island and flood the world. But does he have a way to defend said island? Missiles? Rockets? A BB gun, anything? No. So why is Superman even bothering with it, when a single army helicopter could handle the whole thing during lunch? Do we send Superman to deal with a gas station robbery? No, we call the local police. Lex's "plot" is so poorly thought out that he might as well have knocked over a Texaco. When Superman showed up, and the henchmen were LITERALLY playing cards, because the script had written them into a corner with nothing else to do, I laughed.

Which is why I was so confused when a friend told me how much he loved the movie. And the weird part is that I agreed with most of his reasoning: The acting and direction were, after all, pretty solid. But to me those elements are a means to a end: telling a good story. If the story isn't good to begin with, then the rest is null and void.

I had never occurred to me that someone might see a movie JUST to see good acting, or good direction, not caring what the story was about.

*So awesome.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Moments of Wii-kness

I have a policy about first-generation electronics (that is, the first run of a product with a new technology).

This policy reads: "How about NO?"

Among geeks, early-adoption carries a fair amount of "cred," but it comes with a price . . . and I mean that literally, it comes with a direct monetary consequence. Plus there's a risk of the hardware defects and software bugs that are common with new products. You're generally better off waiting for the next iteration, which will cost less, have more features, and be more reliable.

Funny how the promise of a government rebate can overwhelm my own good advice. Sweet Lord I want a Kindle.

It's an electronic paper device, which also puts it into a substrate of technology that I try to avoid anyway, separate from the "first-gen" issue.

This substrate is labeled: "Solutions to the problems that no one has."

The Segway is a fine example of this kind of technology. Its very existence asserts that cars, bicycles, and even feet were always missing something, and that this something is best resolved with a several-thousand-dollar piece of equipment that has to be recharged. Unless you need an alternative to a wheelchair, I can't think of a good reason to have one.

And electronic paper is the same way, despite some of its unique properties.

Because, you know, in general . . . regular paper seems to work just fine. The book has been around a long time, and there's a reason. It's a really good design.

But eReaders make use of technology's intoxicating little "hook," they unfold (no pun intended). The most desirable machines always have a "reveal" quality, they open up or unfurl. This is why the XMB won an Emmy. It's the reason cell phones are always finding new ways to flip open. It's why Transformers resonated so strongly with my generation.* There's just something about watching the text of one page vanish into a whole new page that makes your better judgment all woozy.

It's like bananas, really. Bananas are a perfect metaphor of superfluous technologies. In most ways they're completely impractical. They bruise easily, aren't very durable, and you've only got about a two day window between when they're no longer green and when they're black and gooey. But there's just something neat about how they peel. They even have a handle!

*It's also why I'm sitting here thinking about new electronics right after seeing "Iron Man."